Sunday profile: Glenwood Springs artist Vanessa Porras finds therapy in art
On a crisp winter day, the late morning sun floods into Vanessa Porras’ kitchen.
Wearing painting overalls, instead of an apron, she carefully leans over the kitchen island applying brush strokes of ink and paint to her latest piece of art.
The Glenwood Springs resident is immersed in work on two new larger art pieces, on heavy stock paper, that she plans to show later this month in an art show in Grand Junction.
The works are part of a series that she began in early 2017, while working on her Bachelor in Fine Arts at Colorado Mesa University.
However the art itself dates back to Porras’ childhood, growing up in the Roaring Fork Valley, and attending school in Carbondale.
Porras says she has had a passion for art as far back as she can remember.
“My name [Vanessa] is Greek for butterfly,” Porras said.
That was something that she didn’t know when she was younger, but says it was fitting for the art she enjoyed making.
“I would wake up every morning and draw butterflies, and send them off to my godmother,” she said.
Porras was diagnosed with clinical depression early on in her life and has had bouts with seasonal affective disorder. She felt a calling to the physiological field.
A 2012 graduate of Roaring Fork High School, Porras enrolled at Colorado Mountain College and started working on her associates in psychology and Spanish.
During an internship, Porras realized she didn’t like the research part of psychology
“I ended up meeting a woman at the children’s hospital who was an art therapist. I decided I wanted that job and asked how I could get there,” she said.
“That’s one of the things for me, personally, why I’m interested in art therapy. I feel like it’s meditative and I don’t have to worry about anything else.”
BACK TO BUTTERFLIES
Porras remembers thinking to herself that the last time she was really happy was drawing those butterflies.
“With depression, if you love something, sometimes it’s difficult to even get started. Sometimes, I just feel like I need to just curl up in bed and zone out,” Porras said.
When she does create art, she said she feels it throughout her whole body, like the endorphins after a really good workout session.
“Right now, it is really important for me to keep that lifestyle of waking up, meditating, working out, doing art, just creating anything,” she added.
Porras finished her Spanish degree at CMC and transferred to Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction to study fine art.
While in school, she said she found that she was in a rut, drawing a series on a blender, and it began to drive her crazy.
She says she decided to bring the detail of a butterfly wing in to start another series of drawings.
“I became obsessed with the pattern,” Porras said. She drew pictures of butterflies for a whole semester.
“Honestly, this sounds really weird, but when I first started these butterfly drawings, it was kind of like tapping into that inner child,” she added.
It all came down to a pattern for Porras, and repeating it over and over again until see couldn’t break it down anymore. She started letting go and observing things at a greater detail.
“It was my own interpretation of what I was seeing,” she added.
Some people told her they look like landscapes, or cells. She felt like she was tapping into something special, and that her creative mind was just going.
The project became a metaphor — like the process a caterpillar goes through in the chrysalis, in order to become the butterfly.
“I feel like a lot of people overlook this chaotic time. I feel it’s like the caterpillar is literally eating itself inside out to become this thing,” Porras said.
FINDING HER PATH
When she started the series she is currently working on, Porras said was very figurative, and had a hard time doing anything abstract.
Porras says she felt like she put herself in a box and things had to be perfect. Over time, she figured out how to implement abstract methods. She mostly focused on the color palette.
Through this period she began to experiment and combined her drawing and painting with woodcuts.
“With these drawings, especially, I allow myself to just let go, because the woodcuts are more planned and precise,” Porras said.
Porras says that, when she is working on her woodcuts, once she takes away, she can’t go back.
During her studies, she found that she was growing frustrated, while only learning about European and American artists.
“I was like, where are Latino artists?”
She wasn’t interested in the historical Latin artists Frida Kahlo de Rivera and Diego Rivera.
“I wanted to know that there were other Latino artists currently working right now,” she said.
Her professor, Josh Butler, professor of print making at CMU, introduced her to an artist from Oaxaca, Mexico, located in central Mexico, a modern mecca for printmaking.
“With woodcut in particular, it’s a very rhythmic, meditative activity, and requires a nice stable point of focus, hand-eye coordination and mindfulness,” Butler said.
“She is making a connection with her own personal history, and her family, that is quite symbolic,” he added. “Her work is gorgeous.”
Through experimentation with the combination of the two mediums, Porras found her senior project and her calling.
She says the Oaxaca Printmaking Collective is full of artists doing amazing things.
“It’s almost a meditative trance of following the line work,” Porras explained.
“She just worked her butt off, and has become very good at cutting the wood and making those images,” Butler added. “I’m definitely a proud teacher here.”
HOME TO THE VALLEY
Porras returned to the Valley after graduating in the spring of 2018 with her BFA in Studio Art.
She is currently working as an administrative assistant and a teaching artist at The VOICES Project. When she isn’t working on her art, working out or meditating, she is also an educator at the Aspen Art Museum.
“She is such an exciting young artist. We are lucky to be working with her. It’s remarkable what she is doing,” VOICES Executive Artistic Director Renee Prince said.
For her duties as a teaching artist, Porras is working with students on an original theater project that features 20 high school students from Basalt and Carbondale, writing scenes and poetry, building puppets, choreographing movement and composing songs for the theatre project.
“It goes back to the same thing, of finding a way to allow someone to say what they need to say, amplifying voices through the arts,” she said
Vanessa says they basically provide the canvas/stage for people to do or say whatever they need to say.
Titled “Void of Darkness, Eat the Light,” the production explores the often-fraught transition from childhood to adolescence.
“I find myself doing a lot of the things that I want to do in art therapy,” Porras said.
For Porras, everything is coming full circle. After hearing about the woodcut movement while in college, she now gets to go work with the same artists.
Through sponsorship from The VOICES Project, Porras will be spending two weeks in Oaxaca for a printmaking art residency.
When she gets back she will be teaching students how to do woodcuts, and everything she learned while in Mexico, as visiting artist for Aspen Community School.
In May, Porras is helping with a Women’s VOICES project in conjunction with Mother’s Day.
“We’ve been using a piece of her art for promotion of the event. It is just so powerful,” Prince added.
While she is focused on her art and helping people through art, she still wants to continue her education.
“I’m hoping to continue working for The Voices Project, and hopefully find a way to afford a master’s program,” she added. “I’m taking all the art opportunities I can right now. I really love that I kind of just fell into the right spot for me.”
As Porras sits down to let her latest art work dry before adding another layer, she glances down at a small tattoo on her wrist. It reads: Not a day without a line.
She says it is the idea of showing up, even if it is just a line, and to make something.
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Fall officially begins Wednesday with the autumnal equinox, but for Glenwood Springs gardeners, the season kicked off early as the area’s first freeze set in Monday night.